Still, the scandal was there, and during the months that followed Arendt's critics seized on it as evidence that she was intellectually untrustworthy. Her defenders, who have made her into an object of passionate hagiography in recent years, were not slow to respond but did little to raise the tone. (source)

What does exactly "did little to raise the tone" in the context of the above excerpt? I lean towards the interpretation that the defenders of Arendt reacted in more defensive way than her critics and that their voice was not so audible but I am not sure.

  • You shouldn't begin your quotation with a sentence that refers to a prior one. Dec 26 '15 at 14:36
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    I believe the "tone" being referred to is Ettinger's reading of an "incomplete correspondence" mentioned in the previous paragraph: "Whether Arendt did this out of a deep psychological need for affection from a father figure, out of Jewish self-hatred, or out of a foolish wish to ingratiate herself with a charlatan she mistook for a genius, Ettinger could not decide. So she advanced all three hypotheses, on the basis of her private reading of an incomplete correspondence." Dec 26 '15 at 14:39
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    That is, it's not as much a matter of civility (as "raise the tone" might otherwise imply) as intellectual thoroughness and the avoidance of sensationalism. Dec 26 '15 at 14:43
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    @TRomano- If you edited your last two comments into an answer, I would up-vote it. Well said. Dec 26 '15 at 15:49
  • The choice of words is puzzling. "Did little" seems to suggest that they were expected to do more. But that does not seem to match the rest of the text. Dec 26 '15 at 22:51

The tone in a discussion is the general feeling, mood, or attitude of the discussion. Just as it is an analogy to a musical tone, tone can be raised and lowered.

Raising the tone of a discussion or argument is to increase or heighten the intensity or intellectual rigour and thereby raising the standard of discussion.

Setting the tone establishes the feeling or mood of an event or happening.

His opening remarks set the tone for the rest of the discussion.


Her superfluous remarks lowered the tone of the discussion.


The experience and real-world examples raised the tone of the discussion.

I believe the tone referred to in the NYT article was the debate on the intellectual rigour and character of Arendt in general and possibly Arendt's defence of Heidegger's actions as a Nazi sympathizer in particular, just after Ettinger's publication..

After Ettinger's publication, Arendt's critics

seized on it as evidence that she was intellectually untrustworthy

possibly because of the close relationship she had with Heidegger, her critics may have felt she was compromised by love. Arendt's defenders

were not slow to respond

in defence of Arendt (whom they thought of in a saintly way), meaning they defended her as well as they could, but

did little to raise the tone

left implicit is the argument of Arendt's credibility. I believe Arendt's critics resorted to something similar to tabloid sensationalism in attacking her character and Arendt's defenders were not able to respond since only a handful of people had actually seen the letters.

Once the letters were generally published

it more than set the record straight

showing the intellectual strength of Arendt, Heidegger, and Jaspers relationship, regardless of their personal intertwining.

[ BTW: Interesting article, thanks ]

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